Exuberant, life-giving God:
As Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, was moved to bless Mary’s child, so fill us with your Spirit that our neighbors’ hidden hopes may be brought to fruition to the glory of your name, through the fruit of Mary’s womb, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week I heard the phrase “The present is the presence.” Those five words take on a great deal of meaning during the Advent and Christmas season. They remind us of the powerful presence of Christ, our Emmanuel, the one with us. He is present among us, loving, redeeming, saving, reconciling, and teaching. These words also portray the significance of time. It is in the present that we experience the presence of Christ. During this Advent season we are bombarded with decisions, spending, and wondering about the future. What if we were to embrace each moment as a present, a gift from God, a time when the Holy Spirit breathes new life into us so we are able to be present with God?
“The present is the presence” also reminds us of the power of relationships. It is through unity with others that we find a new way of giving–offering the gift of ourselves to radiate the presence of Christ to a friend or stranger. Those who radiate the presence of God offer unconditional love, a willingness to listen, a place to be nurtured, and an opportunity to explore the window of one’s soul. We see this type of giving as the relationship of Elizabeth and Mary unfolds in the pages of Scripture. These two women, both carrying miracle babies, had an opportunity to share their dreams and hopes for their expected children. The present they gave one another was to slow down and enjoy the presence of the Lord together.
Mary traveled over 70 miles to be in the presence of Elizabeth. Can you imagine how Elizabeth felt when she opened the door and saw Mary? For almost six months, Elizabeth’s husband had been unable to speak. Now at the door is a gift from God–someone to talk to, someone with whom to share her deepest thoughts, someone to pray with. From Elizabeth’s mouth burst the words, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Luke 1:45). In that moment, the Spirit of God was among them; they knew they were in the presence of God together. They also knew that the child Mary was carrying was the Lord, the Messiah, the Savior. Mary began to sing in praise to God, and together they experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit and the truth of the prophetic Word of God. For the three months they were together, they were present with one another and they laughed, cried, and sang together. I imagine that their time together was deeply infused by the presence of God.
M. Allchin noted in his book The Joy of All Creation: Anglican Meditation on the Place of Mary that this meeting of Mary and Elizabeth is in one sense the beginning of Christian liturgy. He observed that in liturgy we meet not only God but also one another. The blessing, praise, and liberation that flow out of Mary and Elizabeth’s meeting serve as a model for how we, in worship and all of life, should bless and call forth one another’s gifts. In other words, the gift we can give is the presence of camaraderie, praise, and blessing.
When I look at the relationship of Elizabeth and Mary, I am reminded of special people in my life who have demonstrated the presence of Christ, who were used by God and blessed to be a blessing. I think back to my fifth grade male Sunday school teacher, who walked into the girls’ bathroom because I was crying; a mentor who made the gospel come alive; and a friend who went with me on a mission trip where together we understood the presence of our Emmanuel–our God with us. There are many people in my life who have blessed me; the greatest blessing comes when Christ is fully present in the conversation and when together we have acknowledged the presence of Christ.
This Christmas, perhaps the greatest present you can give is to thank someone for being the presence of Christ to you. I believe that just as the Holy Spirit prompted Elizabeth to be there for Mary, the Spirit will give you many opportunities to be the presence of Christ to someone who, like Elizabeth, was lonely, or who, like Mary, was perplexed. Maybe you will even be prompted to be the presence of Christ to a stranger who is searching for a place or person who will offer the face or hands of Christ.
Mary and Elizabeth radiate the presence of God. The present they give to us is their story–a story full of beauty, prophecy, joy, and praise; one that calls us forth to be the very presence of Christ in a lost and broken world so loved by God.
Reverend Kirsty DePree